Netflix’s Love: Season 1 Review
Here's our non-spoiler look at Judd Apatow's new Netflix series, Love.
“Life is tough. Things get hard. And you’re going to need a backup plan.”
There are too many romantic comedies.
On Netflix alone there are over 200 episodes of Friends, dozens of sappy Anne Hathaway or Katherine Heigl vehicles, and the service’s own recent original programming like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Master of None. We don’t need more romantic comedies at this point, and yet, Love is a show that was consistently surprising, delighting, and gutting. I couldn’t stop watching it and I want more of it immediately.
Coming from someone who was dearly in love with Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, as far as I’m concerned, Love completely knocks it out of the water. It comfortably finds a tone somewhere between Ansari’s series and Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. As a fan of the network’s darker programming, this is a very good thing, and it’s Love’s brutally honest, unflinching point of view that is the series’ strongest asset.
Coming from Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust, Love feels distinct right from its opening moments. Timelines and expectations are immediately in flux. It’s not long before the series juxtaposes its two flawed protagonists. Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) are shown going through breakups, weeping in tandem, and experiencing ennui together. This bifurcated perspective asserts its presence strongly in the first episode in order to naturalize this division line between Mickey and Gus. So often episodes are showing the two of them as reactions to one another rather than actually having them be together. Their equilibrium is constantly in flux, so when Gus is out enjoying himself on a date, Mickey is alone and bored out of her gourd, accordingly. Their dueling perspectives compliment each other well. They feel like two sides of the same coin. Each gender gets its own honest take on the topic at hand.
This “Rashomon technique” that Love employs can point out very obvious differences between Mickey and Gus, but it also allows much deeper introspection into relationships. Exploring areas like misreading text messages and party etiquette become fascinating when one of these characters is super chill and the other is extremely tense. Episodes play with the idea of one character being endlessly optimistic towards the progress being made in a relationship, while having no idea the other person can be having sex with someone else all day. This pathetic fallacy is constantly present and is cleverly paired with parallel thoughts like how you can’t really know someone, or how tortured and stressed our enemies can be. While Master of None helps an audience empathize with minorities, this very much does the same thing. Only here the minorities are our antagonists or the people on the peripherals of our life; the people that we deal with, but don’t want—or care enough—to get to know any better.
It’s also crazy how much of Mickey and Gus’ communication is via text or some sort of messaging system. Their jobs and schedules largely keep them apart so it’s actually exciting when these two are occupying the same space. It works in the show’s benefit to take this relaxed, slow pace to Gus and Mickey’s relationship. The series is much more interested in showing you what similar lives they lead and how they are equally broken, rather than showing connection through them hooking up right out of the gate. That’s the direction that you’d expect for a show of this nature. It makes Love’s slow burn storytelling feel all the more unique.
The times when Gus and Mickey are together are magic. Watching them bond, riff, and get to know each other as they share their dreams with each other is really endearing. There are Before Sunrise pangs, which is always high praise in my book. You can’t help but smile and enjoy the chemistry that Jacobs and Rust share, and while Jacobs has been proving her worth for over six years on Community, it’s nice that Rust finally has a vehicle that shows him off for the masses. Watching his earnestness clash with her ruggedness is the perfect cocktail. Something as simple as them getting high together suddenly becomes an all-too-real scene that’s not concerned with anything other than being casual and hanging out.
There’s a scene, for instance, where Mickey watches the John Candy vehicle Armed and Dangerous in bewilderment due to Gus’ love for the film. It’s eerily reminiscent of the pitch perfect scene from Freaks and Geeks where Bill Haverchuck simply watches Garry Shandling stand-up, eats grilled cheese, and just is. It’s pages of characters crammed into an efficient vignette. At other times their union turns into this corrosive substance in such a natural, unassuming way that it speaks volumes on the volatile nature of relationships, too. You can feel so completely in sync with someone one second, and like a complete stranger the next, and Love taps into that feeling perfectly.
Love also makes it its mission to scrutinize many Apatow-esque date topics, much like how Master of None felt like Aziz was running through his own personal checklist of material. Episodes shuffle through relationship touchstones as we’re continually given glimpses of the new “modern” norms like “first date blowjob” etiquette. These little pockets of honesty ring so true and are infinitely empathetic. Claudia O’Doherty is also a revelation as the pie-eyed friend of Mickey, Bertie, who continually sees the world through rose-colored rom-com glasses.
Love’s real strength lies within the relentless honesty. One of my favorite elements from the series is the concept that it brings up of “binging on people.” It’s a fascinating, real problem that is symptomatic of addictive personalities. The series uses this as yet another opportunity to dig into what’s real, what we deserve, and what’s healthy from love. It’s about realizing our faults and trying to fix them while understanding that we’re also only human. We panic into bad habits. The series lets you just watch some troubled people backslide while you get worried and anxious over it all.
Gus says at one point, “Ever since I was a kid, I acted like a grown up, and now that I’m in my thirties I want to have fun.” It’s a piece of dialogue that’s pretty emblematic of the series. This is the sort of show for that niche group of people who see their friends getting married and having kids on Facebook and just knowing that they’re unhappy deep down. It’s a very bitter perspective to have, but it’s at least a deeply honest and hopelessly romantic one.
While Apatow, Arfin, and Rust fulfill a lot of the series’ writing duties (along with The Office’s Brent Forrester), some especially talented directors are assembled here to highlight the relationship pitfalls that Love explores. Parks and Recreation’s Dean Holland helms the pilot and helps establish much of the tone, but others like John Slattery, Joe Swanberg, Michael Showalter, Maggie Carrey (The To Do List), and even Steve Buscemi all command powerful pieces of this series, displaying the rawness of love in different ways.
They all excel at showing how basically everyone is duplicitous and using people as a means of validating themselves. As a people we don’t know how to deal properly. Love is messy, unpredictable, and people can get hurt without a person even trying. Instead of digging into the typical relationship drama that sitcoms live in, Love’s angle is more about commenting on the expectations of a relationship, what you owe the other person, and that when this becomes askew things get dangerous. So much of this show looks at the pain of wanting to connect with someone and to be on the same page, but it just not working. And it’s within this area of difference that Love decides to live in.
“Look who came back,” Mickey says to her missing cat, Grampa, upon his return. Love is a tremendous new series that has a fresh, honest voice that is carried by exceptional performances that says that we’re all just lost pets trying to return home.
Review is based on all ten half-hour episodes of Love’s first season. All episodes become available on Netflix on February 19th